Building excitement: hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean

In 2007 the West Indies will host the ICC Cricket World Cup. James Fuller looks at how the host territories are preparing

The architect’s rendering of the new Providence Stadium in Guyana. Photograph courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Local Organising Committee GuyanaThe architect’s rendering of the new Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua. Photograph courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Local Organising Committee AntiguaThe architect’s rendering of the new Trelawny Stadium in Jamaica. Photograph courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Local Organising Committee JamaicaThe architect’s rendering of the new Trelawny Stadium in Jamaica. Photograph courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Local Organising Committee JamaicaThe architect’s rendering of the renovated Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Photograph courtesy ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 Local Organising Committee Trinidad And Tobago

It’s the third biggest sporting event in the world, it’s cricket’s showpiece, and it’s coming to the Caribbean. On Sunday March 11 next year, an estimated worldwide television audience of 2.5 billion will witness the opening ceremony of the ICC Cricket World Cup at a freshly erected Greenfields Stadium, in Trelawny, Jamaica. Ahead of the global spotlight, the excitement and anticipation in the West Indies — along with a dizzying array of new stadiums and associated infrastructure — is building.

Love and knowledge of the game run deep within the West Indian psyche and, despite the current team’s travails, the tournament organisers promise a wholehearted cricketing celebration. Eight countries — Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago — will host competition matches, while St Vincent and the Grenadines will also stage warm-up games. Sixteen teams, from debutants and minnows Bermuda to perennial champions Australia, will fight it out for the honour of being crowned the world’s best on Saturday April 28 at Barbados’s historic Kensington Oval.

The nine Local Organising Committees (LOCs) are determined the event will be one to remember. But, after 51 matches and 49 days of action, will the many hundreds of millions of dollars invested in cricket’s biggest party be money well spent, or will there be a sizeable and lingering hangover?

The West Indies is the last of the major Test-playing nations to host cricket’s premier tournament and, having triumphed in the first two World Cups (held in 1975 and 1979), there is a feeling that this recognition is overdue.

“In thirty years we have surely earned the opportunity to showcase our region to the world,” says Penny Commissiong-Chow, marketing and communications manager at the Trinidad and Tobago local organising committee (LOC).

There is unanimity on this point, and the World Cup is seen as a shop window for the region and its tourism industry. Karan Singh, CEO of the Guyana LOC, typifies the mood. “For the first time, two and a half billion people will be gathering round their TVs and their eyes will be on the Caribbean . . . we will be showcased to the world.”

A marketing opportunity it may be, but for some its influence is even more profound. For tiny Grenada, devastated by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and again by Hurricane Emily in July 2005, it is nothing less than an opportunity to re-establish itself. “We have suffered a lot, and now we want to send a signal to the Caribbean and to the rest of the world that Grenada is back in business,” says Troy Garvey at the Grenada LOC.

For Barbados, as for others, the tournament has also provided a timely opportunity to bring the country’s facilities up to “international standards”. Repairing roads, building hotels, rejuvenating tourist spots, constructing stadiums, the redevelopment of Bridgetown; all have been stepped up in a frenzy of activity. “All that is being fast-tracked; the World Cup is acting as a catalyst,” says Francine Charles, corporate communications manager at the Barbados LOC.

The regional building programme includes five completely new stadiums, the comprehensive modernisation of seven established venues, and the creation of a further twenty top-class practice and training facilities. There is also a plethora of related infrastructure projects and the upgrading of a wide range of auxiliary services to be considered. So, with tabloid headlines of white elephants, construction delays, and organisational concerns gaining frequency, will it all be ready on time? A number of LOCs admit to being slightly behind schedule on some of their projects; others are on time, or ahead, with theirs. All are utterly confident everything will be finished in time.

“There are plenty of sceptics out there that look at the West Indian countries and say that because they are small economies, can they really do this?” says Barbados’s Francine Charles. She steadfastly believes they can, and she is backed up by Chris Dehring, managing director and CEO of West Indies World Cup 2007, who recently reiterated his assurance that “it will all be ready come March”.

One of the thorniest issues facing a number of the LOCs is how to house the expected influx of one hundred thousand cricket fans. “It is a problem, and, yes, it will be difficult to meet the expected demand,” says Karan Singh at the Guyana LOC. The issue is exacerbated by the timing of the tournament: right at the high point of the regular tourist season.

With a lot of accommodation already taken up by normal holiday-makers, the participating nations are looking to increasingly inventive ways of creating extra space. Alongside projects to build new hotels, establish backpacker-type accommodation in tented villages, and generate additional capacity with cruise ships anchored offshore, many have announced their intention to create bed-and-breakfast schemes. These collaborations between state and public would see nationals opening the doors of their homes to visitors in an effort to alleviate the accommodation problem.

It is an issue, though, which Chris Dehring believes will be resolved in the fullness of time, and that ultimately “there will be enough room on the islands for the visiting supporters”.

The enormous sums invested have raised eyebrows among many observers, amid concerns that some nations are overstretching themselves. It is a claim refuted by the LOCs, who say the investment cannot be analysed purely in terms of the World Cup alone. “The investment is huge,” says Lucia Mings, programme co-ordinator at the Antigua and Barbuda LOC. “But this can’t be judged solely from the point of view of short-term returns, you have to look at long-term benefits.”

Troy Garvey at the Grenada LOC agrees, saying this is “the biggest tourism tool” his country will ever experience. “We won’t get a better opportunity to showcase the country on a world stage, and if we allow it to pass us by we could never forgive ourselves.

“In the short term, the figures invested may look scary, but in the long term we believe hosting the Cricket World Cup will have an extremely positive outcome for the country.”

So, when the final delivery has been bowled and the fans pack up their flags and face-paint and head home, what exactly will the Caribbean be left with? The LOCs see the benefits of hosting as numerous, but the biggest, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the expected boost to the tourism industry and the subsequent impact that will have on the regional economies.

The wealth of modern, world-class facilities created will also mean the industry can branch off into hitherto untapped territory, with sports, events, and entertainment tourism being touted. It is believed that staging the tournament will also raise the credibility of the region in the eyes of the international community, and make it a viable contender for other major events in the future. “It sends the message that as a region we have the capability to host mega sporting events,” says Penny Commissiong-Chow.

A commercial boost is also expected, both in terms of the opportunities at the time of the World Cup and of potential investment following it. “Commercially, I think it’s an opportunity to show people that our country is a place they should be investing in,” says Val Henry at the St Kitts and Nevis LOC.

It is further hoped the spirits of regional togetherness, fostered by nations uniting to stage a successful tournament, as well as volunteerism, brought about by the volunteer programmes within the individual nations, will be perpetuated. “We hope to generate a feeling of ‘Yes, it is my role to serve my country’,” says Antigua and Barbuda’s Lucia Mings.

Perhaps one of the most sought-after and enduring legacies of all, though, would be the memory of a smooth-running tournament, full of exhilarating cricket and satisfied supporters. There is a lot of sweat to be poured and concrete to be laid between now and next March, but the views from the LOCs are overwhelmingly positive that this can become a reality. They are in no doubt that they can make good on tournament organising chief Chris Dehring’s promise, and deliver “the best Cricket World Cup ever”.